Miley Cyrus has never been high on my list of favorites, but I do like this update of “Santa Baby.”
Today I’m devoting my blog space to promoting a project by my dear friend, the artist Paula Billups. I can’t explain it as well as she can, so I’ll just step aside for a moment so you can read her thoughts on the matter.
I am a painter whose reason for working is to show something of what it means to be human and what it means to live in this world with a compassionate heart and a wide-awake mind.
The current Administration’s recent policy of separating families seeking asylum at our country’s border, and imprisoning the children as well as the separated parents in cages, aroused my compassion, as well as my determination to put my skill to use in service to these disenfranchised families. As is true for any individual, I can only make use of those advantages and gifts I have to draw public attention in the direction I would like to see it go.
I announced I would make thirty paintings in thirty days and sell those paintings on my Etsy page. I donated 100% of the profit from the sale to the Texas Civil Rights Project, an organization which assists disenfranchised people and is in a position to relieve the misery and legal difficulty these refugees face. All thirty paintings sold within hours of being posted.
This book is a collection of those thirty paintings and the descriptions I wrote at the time I made them. They sometimes reflect the joy I felt in the beauty of New England summer days, and sometimes the sadness that came over me while working, because I know that although everyone deserves to feel as free, happy and safe as I did in my daily work, many do not. I am conscious that we, by way of our government, are sometimes the source of that suffering,
It is November 28, 2018. As I type this, the deadline for reuniting these families has long since passed. Yet little children still sleep alone tonight, traumatized and shattered. Heartbroken parents reach arms out to empty air instead of to cradle their little ones. What we have done to them is an atrocity. We know this because we know how we would feel, were we these people. We know it is cruel, because we feel pain at the thought of it.
We are called to use our individual abilities and our voices to counteract institutionalized cruelty, to change our way of doing things in the arena of small moves. We must look around us and see, with all our limitations of being “only one person,” what thing we can do right now, right here.
Offering these paintings was what I could do when it all began, and offering this book is what I can do now to help these members of our human family.
As with the paintings, 100% of the profit from the sale of this book will be donated to the Texas Civil Rights Project.
If you’re interested in this wonderful art book — which would make an excellent holiday gift, I might add — please visit this link to buy it.
Two years ago almost exactly, the day before the 2016 American election, I wrote this poem, which crystallized my nervousness about the outcome and solidified my resolve about the future, no matter what. Looking back on it, I realize that those feelings were only the start of what would come next.
Part of me wanted to write a villanelle and had been trying to write one for days, maybe weeks, but it wasn’t coming. I was trying to riff off Dylan Thomas’ famous one in honor of the anniversary of his birth. But it wasn’t working. It just wouldn’t gel. And the problem wasn’t with the form: villanelles are in my wheelhouse and have been ever since I first learned what they were. I love those old French forms, the villanelle and the sestina and their imitation of the Malaysian pantoum, how they foster an obsession while helping the poet discover more layers of what’s at the heart of the matter. I love the puzzle of it all.
The problem with the poem I was trying to write wasn’t the form or even the subject matter, but with my attempt to emulate Thomas in the first place. Not that he wasn’t worth it — far from it. But I found I was trying to speak the needs of myself and of women in culture while trying to conform to the verses of a man. I was trying to bolster a moment of “the future is female” while not being true to the voice of a female.
I tossed all that mess aside and started over. I kept what I needed from the original and from the form, and I added in a hint of Frost to keep Thomas company. Why not? And then I wrote this poem, which was published right after the election in Yellow Chair Review and which is now appearing in my forthcoming collection The Sharp Edges of Water (from Odeon Press).
Tonight is another election eve. I hope tomorrow, if you are a U.S. citizen and are eligible to do so, you will vote as if your rights depend on it (because there’s a strong chance they do). Tomorrow evening will be another vigil. I have many feelings about it, about how it could go, about how I will react in multiple scenarios. But for now, I’m just going to share this poem with you.
The Path Often Traveled, the Path Less Celebrated, the Path of Ennobled Resistance
(A Rule-Breaking Poem for a Nail-Biting Vigil)
Do not go gentle into that stifling night;
Rage, rage against the snuffing of the light.
Do not go gentle into those good old days which were truly night;
Rage, rage against the smothering of the light.
Do not go gentle into that locker room of night;
Rage, rage against the rape of the light.
Do not go gentle into that back alley of the night;
Rage, rage against the beat-down of the light.
Do not go gentle into that Burning Time of night;
Rage, rage against the murder of the light.
Do not go gentle into that murderous night;
Rage, rage against the silencing of the light.
Do not go gentle into that good old boys’ night;
Rage, rage against the extermination of the light.
Crash ungently into that glass sky, crash into the night,
and be light.
November 7, 2016
I recently saw this poem and it just knocked me out. The author, A. E. Stallings, generously allowed me to share it with you here.
In an environment where some writers may feel a tension between wanting to give voice to a marginalized perspective and not having the right to assume that perspective, Stallings’ poem creates a space for empathy and understanding and compassion and guilt without being heavy-handed. On a more technical note, I’m impressed by the poet’s use of rhyme and meter to create the even but not even, symmetrical but somehow “listing,” feeling of riding waves on the ocean.
My love, I’m grateful tonight
Our listing bed isn’t a raft
As we dodge the coast-guard light,
And clasp hold of a girl and a boy.
I’m glad that we didn’t wake
Our kids in the thin hours, to take
Not a thing, not a favorite toy,
And we didn’t hand over our cash
To one of the smuggling rackets,
That we didn’t buy cheap lifejackets
No better than bright orange trash
And less buoyant. I’m glad that the dark
Above us, is not deeply twinned
Beneath us, and moiled with wind,
And we don’t scan the sky for a mark,
Any mark, that demarcates a shore
As the dinghy starts taking on water.
I’m glad that our six-year old daughter,
Who can’t swim, is a foot off the floor
In the bottom bunk, and our son
With his broken arm’s high and dry,
That the ceiling is not seeping sky,
With our journey but hardly begun.
Empathy isn’t generous,
It’s selfish. It’s not being nice
To say I would pay any price
Not to be those who’d die to be us.
“I am trying to remember exactly when I wrote this—it seems to have been published in September of 2015 but must have been written in the summer. My son did indeed have a broken arm, and my daughter was a six-year old who was fearless on the beach but with little in the way of swimming skills. The civil war in Syria was starting to become more visible in Athens—there had been a number of people, mainly families camped and protesting in the main square, Syntagma, until the police whisked them off one night. My husband is a journalist and had gone on Coast Guard patrols in the Eastern Aegean as these flimsy dinghies started coming in greater numbers. He had interviewed people who had been in the water for hours. (In one case, a woman had managed to save a baby, but not another child, who slipped her grasp.) That famous photo of the drowned toddler (Alan Kurdi) was shared widely in September of that year, but that was only one image, and this poem would have been written before that, I believe. Local news and social media sites often showed images of the drowned—kids my own kids’ ages, in similar clothes.
“By January of 2016, an average of ten people a day were drowning—again, often children, with one day seeing thirty-nine deaths. And of course not everyone was even found or declared missing. That was after this poem was written, but this sense that children were drowning in the same water we swam in haunted me all summer, the sense of the Aegean as dangerous and full of death as well as wine-dark or Santorini blue, and that the same element that caressed my children pulled others under. I had dreams about making that crossing. It was maybe that heightened sense of vigilance and danger you just have as a parent of young children, the way you can’t avoid reading terrible news stories about mishaps and accidents.
“But I did not want to write from the point of view of people undergoing this—that felt false to me; in a way I felt it was unimaginable and I wanted to keep that sense—and I wanted to engage with the very difficulty of writing about it. Empathy is derived from the Greek, of course, but it has almost the opposite meaning in Modern Greek to its English denotation—to feel in or towards someone and thus perhaps to feel against them. (The English word is itself a relatively recent coinage, with a pseudo-Greek lineage out of the German translation—before that, I suppose we had only “sympathy”—to feel or suffer “with” someone.) The poem was written relatively quickly, and I wanted to make sure in revision not to smooth the rough edges, the odd off-rhyme or rhythmic off-kilterness. I don’t normally end a poem so flatly, on such a bald statement, but I wanted that gambit here. And I wanted the poem to be published and distributed quickly—it spoke to the moment—which was why I was very glad it was taken by the (then-new) online magazine, Literary Matters.”
— A. E. Stallings
A. E. (Alicia) Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia, and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published three books of poetry, Archaic Smile (University of Evansville 1999), winner of the Richard Wilbur Award, Hapax (TriQuarterly 2000), and Olives (TriQuarterly 2012), as wells as verse translations of Hesiod’s Works and Days (Penguin Classics 2018) and Lucretius’s The Nature of Things (Penguin Classics 2009). A new book of poetry, Like, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux Press in the fall. Stallings is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, and is a teacher beloved of students all over the world. Visit her website and order her most recent book here.
I love social consciousness in poetry. Even better when satire is involved.
Talk about insidious and damaging and hateful. Of all the things the current administration has done which are repulsive, this floats near the top of the list. It doesn’t even really matter how the words were banned or for what purposes. Anyone paying attention and thinking with a critical/analytical mind knows what’s going on here, and it has a lot to do with “framing the debate” (also known as “spin” or “controlling perception” or “manipulating the listener”) and with chipping away at civil liberties and human rights.
In response, enter the poet Elizabeth Gross and the sestina form.
If you’re unfamiliar with the sestina, it’s an old French form which operates on the spiral rotation of six words to create a thirty-nine-line poem. They are marvelous and fun writing puzzles. See if you can identify the key words and the rotating form in this poem by Elizabeth Gross, which first appeared in the CDC Poetry Project, edited by Sarah Freligh and Amy Lemmon.
Science-based ethical consciousness seeks same
Hellooo, potential soul-mates! A little about me: ever since I was a fetus
I’ve felt most comfortable underwater—we all start out transgender
mer-folk after all, with gills and tails—suddenly vulnerable
to everyone and everything when we hit the air. Entitlement
begins here, begins early, with a slap. Yet, for some, an evidence-based
approach eventually reveals that others exist, and there is a diversity
of consciousness to color in the lines drawn by our diversity
of physical bodies. I start with my own example as a fetus
but really I’m looking for someone older, awake to the evidence-based
world around them—I mean, the end of the world. A woman, transgender
or non-binary individual because I can’t even with the entitlement
of straight cisgender men. How are they still talking? How invulnerable
to shame? Are they actually convinced that they’re the vulnerable
ones in this society? Digging in their heels so the new “diversity
hire” can’t put on the same bad suits? Whining entitlements
are un-American! Hate-watching RuPaul’s Drag race from a fetal
position, tweeting rage, kept up at night by fantasies of transgender
people using the same bathrooms as their wives. An evidence-based
analysis reveals zero threat to cis straight men, but evidence-based
studies do show our culture slowly changing as the vulnerable
claim more space, more time (shout out to you activist honeys!) Transgender
women of color are still targets of violence but we wear DIVERSITY
IS STRENGTH on tee shirts sometimes, right? Now it’s me in the fetal
position—the world is too much/not enough right now—aren’t we entitled
to feel a little bit okay sometimes? No? Not ever? Am I even entitled
to a we here, in this divided moment? I want an evidence-based
takedown of the language of authority. I want a language-less fetus
culturally speaking, a fresh start. Let’s pretend we’re all vulnerable
here (because we actually are) and also recognize a diversity
of strengths as strength, remake ourselves in the image of a new transgender
god. To recap: I want to find a girlfriend (broadly defined). Transgender
non-binary genderqueer femme tomboy yay! (I know, I know, my entitlement
is showing.) My references will attest to my loyalty and candor. I offer a
of first date suggestions, crowdsourced and vetted—truly an evidence-based
approach to dating. Let’s trade anxiety dreams without touching, get vulnerable
and cry for a while, on the floor, separately, with NPR on, in the fetal
position. Too much? I’ll call you fetus if you call me science. We’re all entitled
to evidence-based pet names that reflect our true diversity—
transgender, cisgender, anygender the heart can hold, make vulnerable again.
Elizabeth Gross is a poet/translator/teacher/karaoke enthusiast from New Orleans. She completed her MFA in poetry at Hunter College of the City University of New York and still inhabits New York occasionally in her stress dreams. She co-translated and produced a new adaptation of Euripides’ Bakkhai at the Marigny Opera House in 2015. Her chapbook Dear Escape Artist, a collaboration with artist Sara White, came out from Antenna in 2016. More poems have recently appeared in Okey-Panky, TENDERLOIN, Fairy Tale Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly. You can find more about her and her work at grosselectricworks.com.
Tomorrow is Election Day. It’s not a presidential election year or even a Congressional mid-term, and so not a lot of people are likely to show up. When I early-voted last week (halfway through the early voting cycle), I was one of only 1.9% of the eligible voters in my district who had done so.
I cannot stress enough the importance of showing up and participating. Especially if you want change. Please.
If you know me, you know Ani diFranco is one of my very favorite artists, so you’ll get to see a fair bit of her on this blog when I feature music and poetry. This one is not only beautiful, it’s important.
A practicer of magical arts.
Someone who buys into that really old time religion. A pagan.
Someone who knows her own damn mind.
A politically inconvenient troublemaker.
A caricature, a cautionary tale, a mockery.
Someone trying to make at least one little corner of the world a better place.
Someone who meditates.
Someone whose compass has five points.
Someone who is using the resources she has at hand to solve the problems that sometimes feel too big, but she is trying to do it anyway.
Someone who knows that what goes around, comes around, threefold.
Someone who wears a pointy hat, someone who has an intelligent cat, someone who soars to the moon and back.